Spaceflight Insider

US Air Force Global Strike Command conducts Minuteman III test from Vandenberg Air Force Base

Rising from Vandenberg Air Force Base and flying west over the Pacific Ocean, an unarmed Minuteman III ICBM was launched on September 2, as part of the Air Force Global Strike Command’s ICBM test launch program. Credit, Ashly Cullumber, SpaceFlight Insider

On Wednesday, September 2, 2020 at 12:03 a.m. Pacific Time, an operational test launch of an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) was conducted from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. The launch was overseen by the Air Force Global Strike Command.

The purpose of the ICBM test launch program is to validate and verify the safety, security, effectiveness, and reliability of the weapon system, according to Air Force Global Strike Command. The launch calendar for the ICBMs are built three to five years in advance and each test launch takes several months to prepare, which involves multiple government partners. During each test, the ICBM test vehicles travel approximately 4,200 miles to the Kwajalein Atoll located in the Marshall Islands, where the vehicle re-enters.

The launch decision authority was, Col. Kris Barcomb, 30th Space Wing Operations Group Commander, whom stated in a Vandenberg Air Force Base News Release: “Our outstanding Airmen and space professionals continue to showcase flawless execution and teamwork between the 30th Space Wing and the 576th Flight Test Squadron”. Continuing, Barcomb shared that “This test launch represents another successful demonstration of our nation’s capability and underscores the fact that our nuclear enterprise is safe, secure, reliable, effective and ready to defend the United States and our allies.”

Aside from the ICBM test launch program, the commercial launch calendar for 2020 at Vandenberg AFB has been fairly dormant in comparison to recent years. On August 30, SpaceX successfully launched Argentina’s SAOCOM 1-B radar imaging satellite from SLC-40 out of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, in a historic launch of a polar orbit inclination from Florida. For many years Vandenberg AFB had been the exclusive site for American polar orbit launches. SAOCOM 1-A, the sister satellite to SAOCOM 1-B,  launched successfully from Vandenberg AFB in October 2018.

A SpaceX Falcon 9, carrying the SAOCOM 1A satellite, sits on the SLC-6 launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base prior to its launch on October 8, 2018. Image: Ashly Cullumber, Spaceflight Insider


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